Category Archives: main dish

creamy asparagus risotto (or dear, spring weather-how do i love thee?)


for most of the country this time of year means spring. warm days, cool nights, new blossoms pushing up throught the earth, a sense of renewal spewing up from your pores. but for those of us in texas, we had that feeling about 2 months ago and have now forged on to blood-boiling heat like you would not believe. we haven’t hit 100 degrees yet, but when you factor in what temperature it “feels like”, we’re up to about 104, i think. i also think i forget to move back to california every year when this happens. but this week, and this week only, we got a reprive. the last vestige of spring is upon us and, mercifully it has been in the 80’s during the day and in the unheard-of 50’s at night.

to help celebrate this, i present to you aspargus risotto. y’all know risotto, right? that dish that you have to stand over and stir for hours on end? well, after this week it’ll be no-can-do with our weather. but if you live in a place where you won’t get arrested for startin’ up the stove after april, you should give this a whirl. it is a simple, but very satisfying meal in itself. it is also a method for which, from here on out i will provide a step-by-step guide. a method just basically means once you get, you get it, and you can substitute solids and liquids freely. as long as you stick with the rules, o’ course!


it is best made with a short grain, starchy rice called arborio.


heat your butter/olive oil combo. remember this combo not only allows you to saute at a higher heat than just with butter alone, (because oil has a higher flashpoint than butter, meaning it won’t burn as fast) but it is also a very rich combination.


add in your onions or shallots, saute for a few minutes, then add your rice. but whatever you do, do not brown the mixture.


like i did.

then add your wine–at least a decent drinking wine please. if you don’t embibe or like the flavor, you can leave this step out and just start with adding broth to the rice.


at this point, you’ll want to stir and stir and stir the mixture. this not only allows the wine to infuse into the rice, it also releases the starch from the rice which gives risotto it classic creaminess in the final product.


start adding the stock, one cup at a time and repeat the process.


don’t forget when you get the wine out for the risotto to go ahead and pour yourself a glass. after all, you’re already finished with all the prep work and sharp implements, so enjoy youself!


when the risotto is about 5 minutes away from being al dente (tender on the outside, firm to the bite on the inside), add your asparagus, or other veggie to the mix.


taste it to see if you like the consistency of the rice and veggies, then remove from heat. then add the reason we’re all really here, the butter and cheese.

risotto-12just look at it glisten. it should a bit loose but not too soupy. plate it up and add a drizzle of good quality olive oil, and another good helping of parmesan cheese. omg. i’m going to go make some more of this right now.

creamy aparagus risotto (serves 4 as a main, 6-8 as a side dish)

2 tbsp olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

4 tbsp butter, divided

1 cup arborio rice

4 shallots or 1 medium onion, chopped as fine as you like

1/2 c white wine

4 cups chicken or veggie stock (this is the time to get out the good stuff, the flavor of this depends greatly on your choice. hey, no pressure!)

1 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends removed and reserved, sliced into 1/4 inch slices on the bias (see picture-it makes it pretty!)

1/2  cup parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)

 set 4 cups stock of your choice in a small sauce pan with the woody ends of asparugus, bring to a slow simmer and remove asparagus after 3-4 minutes. leave stock on very low to keep warm.

heat oil and 2 tbsp butter in large saute pan over medium low heat. add shallot or onion and saute about 2-3 minutes until softened, but not browned, like i did. then add arborio rice and saute an additional minute or so. add white wine, if using. simmer, while stirring until wine is almost absorbed into rice. then add stock 1 cup at a time, each time stirring almost contantly until liquid is absorbed between additions. do not overcook rice. the whole process should only take about 18-20 minutes. after you have added your last cup of stock, or about 5 minutes before rice is al dente, add asparagus and stir with rest of mixture, taking care not to overcook or break apart the delicate tips. take off the heat and add remaining 2 tbsp butter and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. gently stir until butter and cheese have melted. serve topped with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and a bit more parmesan cheese.


Filed under main dish, side dish, Uncategorized

crispy ricotta gnocchi with pine nuts and spinach (ricotta-part trois!)


oh, you are gonna thank me for this one. pasta…that you can fry until crispy and brown? and add toasted pine nuts and cheese? and a drizzle of olive and some fresh baby spinach? oh my word.

the inspiration for this dish came from a blog i subscribe to called 101 cookbooks. in it, heidi swanson, the creator of this blog uses the golden gnocchi to add to a pasta salad, of sorts. given the fact that we are, well technically at least,  still in winter, i thought a warm application of this would be in order. you can use packaged gnocchi, if that’s all you can come up with, but buy or make fresh if you can.


crispy gnocchi with pine nuts and spinach

1 pound fresh gnocchi, cooked, drained and patted dry  (add to simmering water until rise to the surface, about 2 minutes)

1 TBSP olive oil (plus extra for drizzling-use the best you have)

1 TBSP unsalted butter


pine nuts (you can toast ahead of time for 7-10 minutes in a 375 degree oven or throw them in towards the end of sauteeing the gnocchi like i do)

a few handfuls fresh baby spinach

freshly grated parmigiana reggiano


heat olive oil and butter in  a large skillet over medium-high heat. add gnocchi and toss to coat. allow to saute in a single layer, undisturbed until golden brown. flip gnocchi over with a spatula to brown on the other side. add pine nuts to pan when you have a 1-2 minutes left before gnocchi are crispy on second side. remove from pan and salt to tase. add spinach and toss, allowing spinach to wilt a bit with the heat of the gnocchi. grate parmigiana and drizzle good quality olive oil over top.



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Filed under main dish, pasta

ricotta, part deux (makin’ gnocchi!)


remember all that ricotta i made several weeks back? did you wonder what i was going to do with all of that? well, I did. so who better to get some much needed lessons for making gnocchi from than mario batali. i love him. he is serious about his italian food but not snobby about it. and you gotta love the orange crocs.


i already had everything i needed to make them. so i wondered that if i had anything to lose, i didn’t know what it was. maybe time…but as usual i would rather be nowhere else than playing in the kitchen.


mix everything together by hand and form a ball of dough, adding flour as necessary to keep from being too sticky.


i tried to form into the little gnocchi shapes using the ‘2 spoon’ method–i was not successful. i ended up rolling a large handful at a time into ropes, then cutting into about 1″ pieces. sorry i didn’t get any shots of that part of the process. there is a great tutorial on this method which i used from elise.



then off to the boiling water they go. try not to overcrowd the pot. after about 2 minutes they should float to the top. that’s when you pull them out and add some more.


you can toss these with your favorite marinara sauce (use the one on elise’s page) and freshly grated parmigiana reggiano OR you can wait and i’ll post a recipe next time that will blow your mind. 



homemade ricotta gnocchi

1  1/2 lbs fresh whole milk ricotta, drained if you are not making this from scratch

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (i like king arthur)

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 TBSP freshly chopped parsley or spinach (optional)


if using store bought ricotta, place the ricotta in a fine sieve over a bowl. cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight. in a medium-sized bowl, stir the drained ricotta, 1 cup of the flour, the eggs, parsley (if using), salt, pepper and nutmeg together gently but thoroughly until a soft dough forms, adding a little more of the flour if the dough is sticky to the touch. forming the gnocchi: dip 2 tablespoons in cool water. using 1 spoon, scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture and use the other spoon to form it into a smooth, pointed oval. alternatively, you can use elise’s method i used above (HIGHLY recommended!). place the gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with a lightly-floured kitchen towel.

bring 4-6 quarts of water to a gentle boil. add the gnocchi a few at a time, trying not to over crowd. as soon as they float to the top, they are ready to fish out with a slotted spoon or strainer. this should take about 2 minutes from the time they are put in. you can add more as soon as you take a few out.

these freeze well (before cooking, of course). lay in a single layer on a sheet pan in the freezer. then when they are fully frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer safe bag. do not defrost, put straight into boiling water from the freezer.


Filed under main dish, pasta, Uncategorized

taco night!


fond food memories for me always include names like taco night, friday night-pizza night, and potato bar. to this day whenever i finish making loaded baked potatoes and salad for dinner i always tell houston that “the potato bar is now open”. that sentence must be deeply imbedded within my genetic code. it just spews forth without hesitation. anyway, i still get a kick out of ‘themed’ dinners like these–they make me feel child-like.

everyone once in awhile taco night means going out for tacos (there are so many places to get fabulous tacos in austin, don’t even get me started…), but mostly it means making the taco filling (we use ground turkey–it has a very meaty bite, but is much lighter than hamburger) and fryin’ up the shells and serving the whole mess with fixin’s. that way everyone gets to eat tacos exactly how they like ’em.


i like to get those ready first and keep them in the fridge nice ‘n’ cool ’till everything else is ready. you can go tradtional tex-mex with ice berg lettuce and yellow cheddar or put another spin on it like i have here. this is more california baja-style with shredded purple cabbage and queso fresco.


do you remember these? everyone used them. sometimes i still do if i’m feeling lazy. but really, you already have everything that’s included in this packet hanging out in your spice rack. really. go look right now.


the only thing you might have to get is some cocoa powder (unsweetened). but you should get some of that anyway and add it to your next pot of chili. it adds a nice depth of color and flavor that will really surprise you.


you should NOT under any circumstances, however use store-bought taco shells. go the extra mile and fry them yourself. this is the differnce between ok and delicious. it’s really easy. i found these red tortillas at our local mexican mega-mart. they’re made with red chili powder-purdy, huh?


bring a shallow frying pan 1-2 fingers full of vegetable or canola oil you’ll want something fairly inocuous here. can you tell i’ve had this pan since the time my mother fried taco shells in it? ah, my first (and still only) le creuset!


use a deep fry, a.k.a. candy, thermometer to get the oil to about 350 degrees F. this is the perfect temperature to get fried things crispy, not soggy.


add in your first tortilla, sliding it in carefully as not to splatter yourself. let it puff up a little. after about 5-10 seconds, while it’s still pliable, fold it over but not all the way. you want to be able to get fillings in there after you take it out. fry on 1 side for about 5 seconds, then flip over to the other side. each tortilla should only take 15-20 seconds in the oil.



drain on some paper towels. you can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven if you like.


fill ’em anyway you like and enjoy!


homemade taco night tacos

1 lb ground turkey

1 small onion, diced

2 fresh jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced or sliced thinly

3 garlic cloves, minced

a few tablespoons of canola oil (plus more for frying)

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (find this in the baking aisle, it was what you once used to make hot chocolate before they came out with those little packets)

1 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp mexican oregano (fresh or dried)

1 cup of your favorite salsa

1/4-1/2 cup water

2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

juice of 1 lime

fixin’s and hot sauce or salsa of your choice—get these chopped, shredded and ready to go. put them in the fridge so they’re nice and cold when you build your tacos. the contrast with the hot, spicy meat and the toppings is all part of the package.

in a large skillet over medium high heat, saute the meat up in a bit of canola oil until almost no pink, breaking it up as you go. take it to just underdone because you will adding it back in and it will cook for a little longer. this will prevent it from drying out. drain the grease from the meat through a colander. set aside. add a bit more oil to the same pan and saute the onion and peppers until soft. add the garlic and saute for about a minute, stirring often so the garlic doesn’t brown (this will make it bitter). add the chile powder, cocoa powder, cumin, and oregano and stir often for 30 seconds to a minute. add the meat back to the pan as well as the salsa and water. i start with 1/4 cup or so of water, give the whole thing a good stir, then add more if it appears too dry for my taste. you want it a little soupy, but not drowning. turn the flame down to low and cover, simmering for 5-10 minutes. turn off the heat and add the cilantro and lime juice.

fry up the tortillas. heat a shallow pan with about an inch or so canola oil until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry or candy thermometer. fry tortillas one at a time, folding each over after about 5 seconds in the oil, then cooking for about 5-6 seconds for each side. drain on paper towels.

get your toppings and hot sauce out and open up the taco bar!

these go great with a cold beer like st. arnold fancy lawnmower.



Filed under main dish, meat, mexican

italian meatloaf (with super sophisticated balsamic glaze)


i wish i could tell you that i had very fond memories of coming home on a cool evening after playing outside for hours to the inviting aromas of freshly baked meatloaf.  but the truth is, i just can’t. we were latch-key kids (remember that term?), often getting home hours before mom and fending for ourselves half the time. but before you go all feeling sorry for me and everything, i have to tell you that in reality, we did quite well for ourselves. i might not have ever learned how to bake bread, make homemade butter (we actually did this!) or  make cookies if i didn’t have to. i am glad for the basic skills i acquired and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

mom did cook when she could, but meatloaf was just not in her repertoire. and that’s ok, because i believe there are much better versions of it out there these days than in the 1970’s. it is now understood, for instance, that manhandling the mixture will produce a heavier, denser loaf. and that shaping it into a loaf, rather than stuffing it into a loaf pan, produces a less greasy version than it’s outdated cousin. the use of bread quickly soaked in some milk does the trick of adding bulk and keeping it moist, instead of breadcrumbs from a can, but those’ll work, if that’s all you have.

i use 3 types of meat for my meatloaf. the ground sirloin and ground pork sausage are strictly for flavor, while the ground turkey helps keep it light:


add the veggies and other stuff and form into a long loaf and place on top of some parchment paper on a sheet pan or baking dish:


slather on the ketchup-balsamic glaze–as thick as you wanna. i actually wish that i had made twice as much to put on top. (sorry the photo’s not so great, but you get the idea):


make your mashed taters and veggie while it’s baking and you are livin’ the good life!


italian meatloaf with ketchup-balsamic glaze


1/2 pound ground turkey thighs

1/4 pound ground sirloin

1/4 pound ground pork sausage (we use one large link of homemade pepper pork sausage from our butcher-look for something interesting and flavorful!).

2-3 slices bread

1/3 cup milk

1 small onion, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh flat italian parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

2 eggs

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

a few splashes worcestershire sauce

1 teasoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


for the glaze:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup ketchup


preheat oven to 350 degrees.

place bread in a small bowl and cover with milk mixture. in a large bowl, gently mix together meats by hand until fairly homogenous. add bread, tearing apart into small pieces, and soaking milk to bowl. add onion through pepper and mix by hand just until mixed, try not to over mix as this will cause meatloaf to be too dense.

form into a long loaf shape and place on ungreased parchment paper on a sheet pan or baking dish.  bake for 50-60 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees. allow to rest for at least 10 minutes. move to a platter or cutting board (out of it’s own ‘juice’) before slicing.


Filed under main dish, meat